What Is the Difference Between Tort Law and Criminal Law?

While tort law aims to compensate a victim, criminal law aims to punish a criminal. In addition, while individuals or organizations pursue tort cases, it is usually the government that pursues criminal cases. There are also differences in terms of outcomes, like imprisonment versus compensation.

Some of the key differences between tort and criminal cases include:

  • While criminal cases require the defendant to prove they are innocent, tort cases require the victim to prove the defendant's action resulted in their injury or wrong.
  • Although criminal defendants are guaranteed trial by jury, this is not always the case for tort defendants.
  • Tort derives from common law that passes down from generation to generation with small alterations, whereas criminal law derives from statutes.
  • In criminal cases it is necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant had criminal intent, whereas accidental actions can result in a favorable outcome for the victim in tort law.
  • Defendants convicted under criminal law may face fines, imprisonment or death, whereas those convicted under tort usually pay compensation only.
  • In tort, a victim consenting to the action is a defense, but this is rarely the case in criminal trials.
  • When interpreting the law, it is necessary to look at precedent for criminal cases, but not always in tort.
  • Criminal cases do not compel the defendant to defend themselves, whereas tort cases do.